EdiblyAsian readers are seemingly becoming more interested in some very traditional ingredients such as Prahok, Fish Sauce, Padek and a few other cottage industry products. This is a story on Prahok that I feel very fortunate to have stumbled on. It's from a UNDP press release from Cambodia. Reference: http://www.un.org.kh/undp/pressroom/press-releases/prahok-producers-form-association-to-expand-market-opportunity

Prahok Producers Form Association to Expand Market Opportunity
Published: Sunday, 04 October 2009
Updated:   Thursday, 19 August 2010

Cambodian women cut fish to make prahok orb, 
the fermented fish paste used in Khmer cuisine.

Prahok, Cambodia’s traditional fermented fish paste, is an essential flavor in Khmer cuisine. For generations, the white and boneless prahok orb - or “aromatic prahok” - has been known as the best quality fish paste, which is made by families in Kampong Khlaing commune on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake.
Yet production of this prahok orb has been declining. Only about 30 of the 1,986 households in the poor commune in Siem Reap province are still making it using the tiny fish species called kampleanh.

Many households find it easier and more profitable to just sell the fish in bulk than to turn it into this special type of prahok. And often, even if villagers choose to invest their time and effort in following this process, often it is the prahok wholesalers, not the makers, who gain most of the added value.

An effort to revive the craft is now underway. The Ministry of Commerce has helped to establish the Kampong Khlaing Prahok Orb Association to enable the villages to retain more added value from making the gourmet fish paste.

The prahok producers’ association is the first in the country, and the ministry’s aim is to provide business services to hundreds of families to help them generate income and combat poverty.

“For the next two years, we will continue to support and strengthen the association by providing finance services and monitoring the association’s progress on a regular basis,” said  Secretary of State Mao Thora, who leads the Ministry’s TRADE Project which is supported by UNDP.

In an effort to assist the association in promoting the prahok orb, the ministry provides marketing strategy to brand the product, access micro-finance, and improve sanitary standards.

To make prahok, villagers fillet the fish, pound the flesh to a paste by treading it like wine grapes, then salt it and ferment it for three months. Unlike the white prahok orb from Kampong Khlaing commune, most prahok is grey to brown in colour.

Sometimes called fish cheese in English, prahok is one of the main ingredients in Khmer cooking. It is generally thought of as a smelly and salty condiment. However, it also provides essential proteins and nutrients in a rice-based diet.
Under the Ministry’s strategy, prahok orb will receive a mark under the new Geographic Indication system which will guarantee the authenticity of its origin. Packaging and labels have already been designed.

Some 68 villagers from seven villages in Kampong Khlaing commune gathered at a local temple in March to elect the association’s board members. The majority of those elected were women. A lifetime membership fee costs 10,000 riel (US$2.5).

Kampong Khlaing commune chief Tui Nheam, 59, said the association would provide a safety net for the locals who make and sell prahok and form a unified voice in the fishing communities.

“The fishermen and prahok makers will be able to get more money for their fish,” he said. “High income will improve their living conditions.”

In a move to introduce the product to a wider market, the Ministry purchased 100 kilos of prahok orb from the association, packaged and sold it at ASEAN’s Least Developing Countries conference in Siem Reap province in May.  A half-a-kilo jar of prahok sold for 12,000 riel (US$3).  Proceeds went to the association.

The Kampong Khlaing project is just one example of how the Ministry of Commerce is working with local communities throughout Cambodia to expand market opportunities for poor rural villagers.

Mr. Mao Thora said the Ministry wants to continue its relationship with rural communities to establish more agri-business associations to promote local products, allowing poor villagers to generate higher income to improve their living standards.

All Rights Reserved. © Used with the kind permission of  UNDP Cambodia. 17 December 2010.